HC Deb 19 July 2004 vol 424 cc10-2
6. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the criteria used in awarding procurement contracts. [184473]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Our procurement policy is driven by the need to provide the armed forces with the equipment they require at best value for money for the taxpayer. As set out in the Government's defence industrial policy, acquisition decisions are driven principally by cost, operational effectiveness and affordability.

Miss McIntosh

The Secretary of State knows that a £1.5 billion contract will be awarded for the Ministry of Defence support vehicle. I pay tribute to the work of our servicemen and women, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. They should get the best vehicle that money can buy, which should have been battle tested in Iraq and Afghanistan and proven to have the highest reliability and technical capability. Why have none of the four main bidders' vehicles been trialled?

Mr. Hoon

A decision will be made soon on the support vehicle competition—the bids are in the final stage of their evaluation, and it would be inappropriate to say any more. As I indicated a moment ago, affordability is undoubtedly one of the key criteria for any equipment. No doubt the hon. Lady will make those representations to her Front Benchers, who propose to cut the defence budget by something in the order of £2.7 billion, which is rather more than the total cost of that project.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the average age of a skilled worker on the Tyne is more than 50, so there is a lot of hope in the north that the proposed aircraft carrier project will do something to rectify that? Can he assure me that the aircraft carrier programme will go ahead on time and as the MOD originally specified?

Mr. Hoon

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have set out in a written answer today our determination to proceed with the carrier contract. I am confident that the contract will provide a significant amount of shipbuilding work, not only for my hon. Friend's constituency, but for many other shipbuilding constituencies around the country.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the defence procurement budget is running at between £9 billion and £10 billion a year? Can he assure the House that the Defence Procurement Agency, which took over from the Procurement Executive in 1999, is meeting its main objective of buying weapons systems and platforms and delivering them on time, within budget, and to specific standards?

Mr. Hoon

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I regret to tell the House that, particularly in relation to some of the older contracts signed under previous Governments, there has been some slippage as a result of the poor financial standards that were imposed—poor financial standards of the kind that we get used to, unfortunately, from the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues, who want to cut the total defence budget by roughly a quarter of the amount that he said was available for procurement. Perhaps he could ask them which particular projects they intend to cut.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab)

What are the implications of my right hon. Friend's opening remarks for the shipbuilding programmes that are under way at Swan Hunter and at Govan, and for the proposed extensions to that work?

Mr. Hoon

We have a very extensive programme of new shipbuilding to provide the Royal Navy with the latest and best equipment for frigates and for carriers. Members of the Royal Navy are hugely enthusiastic about the forward programme, which, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn), will provide significant job opportunities right across the shipbuilding industry.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)

May I ask the Secretary of State about military helicopter procurement? This time last year, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) and I, under the auspices of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, spent the week with the joint helicopter force based at Basra airport, and learned at first hand how difficult it is to fly helicopters in the intense summer heat in that part of the world. What plans, if any, do the Government have to procure helicopters for use by the Iraq military, instead of by British and other coalition forces, so that they can patrol the skies of their own country without the need to use British helicopters?

Mr. Hoon

Extensive programmes are available to Iraq to provide the right kind of equipment for its armed forces once the training that they are receiving is of the necessary complexity to enable them to operate sophisticated equipment such as helicopters. At this stage, I cannot say precisely when those helicopters will be delivered to the Iraqis, but I know that that is in the programme.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab)

Further to the question by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), when will my right hon. Friend come to the House to justify the continued existence of legacy projects that are running massively over-time and over-budget? We know that they were initiated under the previous Administration, but are they needed now, and at such cost?

Mr. Hoon

I will not give the House a long list of the various procurement projects that are under way, but I can say that, even allowing for certain of the legacy projects that were subject to significant delay before this Government were elected, we will continue with those that meet a justifiable military need. However, we have tried to get them under control in terms of cost and time, because that is crucial in delivering their capability to our armed forces.

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